Amos 2:6 – 3:8 Amos (prophet) prophesied in the 8th Century, BCE in the Northern Kingdom of Judaea.
Last week’s post, VaYishlach, featured an image inspired by a medieval haggadah- the Rylands Haggadah from 14th C. Catalonia. This week I harken once again to a medieval haggadah. This time it is the Sarajevo Haggadah from 1350 Spain. I want to take you on a time traveler’s tour using this image. We will visit the prophecies of Amos, the story of Joseph, the courts of the Empeor Hadrian, medieval Spain and come back home. So get your passport and hold on to your hat!
The haftarah is from the Book of Amos. He was a herdsman and farmer concerned with righteousness. He believed that if a society and all the members of society are not good to each other the society crumbles. The fortunes of Assyria were waning and the Kingdom of Judaea had a period of affluence- but there was a large economic gap between the rich and the poor and it seemed that the rich were selfish and unrighteous.
Amos begins this haftarah by saying “… they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes…And a man and his father go unto the same maid to profane My holy name”. Both of these phrases allude to the parsha. The first describes how the brothers sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 shekels of silver. “The man and his father going to the same maid ” reminds us of Yehuda being unfair and humiliating Tamar, his daughter-in-law.
I decided to represent the haftarah and parsha showing the brothers selling Joseph. I went to the Sarajevo Haggadah with its wonderful rendering of the scene. In the painting we see the brothers exchanging money with Ishmaelite traders. The brothers are depicted as Spanish merchants with fair skin and light hair wearing typical clothing of the period. Look at the traders- they are black, with dark skin, curly black hair, and black features. Joseph stands with the foreign traders. He’s portrayed as a little boy, his hands held together begging his brothers to take him back. And we see the camels carrying the merchants’ goods.
We can learn from historical images. This image tells us that the Spanish Jews were trading with black merchants traveling from North Africa. It tells us about the clothing of the time and the art produced for the Jewish community. We also learn that today we use the same haggadah that Jews used in medieval Spain, and that Pesach was so important that someone commissioned a hand written, illustrated book to be used at their seder.
The scene of Joseph I painted, inspired by the Sarajevo haggadah, reflects the first phrases of the haftarah and takes us to how that story was viciously used in history. In some synagogues at the musaf service on Yom Kippur we read about ten righteous Rabbis who were martyred by the Romans under the emperor Hadrian about 120 CE. The Roman judges quoted a law which stated, “Whoever kidnaps a man and sells him, or if the man is found in his possession, must be put to death”. They used Amos, Devarim 24:7, and the story of Joseph as an excuse to torture the ten Rabbis.
This is the line through history. The haftarah from around 750 BCE mentions the sin of “selling your brother”. That quote reminds us of the story of Joseph who lived 3,500 years ago. Then we travel to the Roman tyrants in the reign of Hadrian 1900 years ago. And then we move to the beautiful Sarajevo Haggadah from 660 years ago, replete with Jewish cultural history from that time. And Amos’s message comes through- do not sell your brother- in other words, treat your family and society with respect and understanding. Otherwise tragedy will unfold.
One of the goals in creating my haftarah art pieces is to communicate the theme of the haftarah, relate it to the parsha, integrate Jewish history, and hopefully forge a connection between the viewer and our Jewish past. In that way we can remember that the Tanach is alive. Although time continues to pass we can still learn from our history and that in truth we are living the history.
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